Lessons learnt – reflection of ONL192

The most important things I have learned during ONL course are related to me as a learner, working in groups, and studying online courses. Of course, many new aspects of openness have also emerged, such as the quite difficult concepts of digital visitors/residents, open education and blended learning. But as said, more has been related to me as a participant of online courses, and what aspects this brings. As quite an amateur in online learning, it was useful to participate at this stage, as most of the course seemed new and interesting. What I felt was most overwhelming was the feeling of not knowing what to do and what is expected. And after discussions with some participants of the previous iterations, I understood that this is part of the learning curve, or process. But I also found that this was kind of useful, as it allowed the group work to find its own course, without too much steering. This was reflected in the discussions, which were at least at first, all over the place, but was then narrowed down to a (usually) clear focus, identified by the group members.

An aspect that I felt was important and that I gained some insights of is the organisation of online courses, and what seems to work and what doesn’t. One key aspect is to have clear guidelines for tasks, and aims, as I feel online collaboration needs a clear focus. Otherwise, the task can get a bit tricky as online meetings are not that many, and the timeframe is limited. Another thing which I feel has been important is the use of different online/digital tools for both collaboration and reporting tasks. Even if there is no point in concentrating on which tools are the best right now, the use of different tools somehow creates a mind-set to use different tools and platforms in the future. This is surely something that I will use, and forward to students, when planning online courses in the future.

Being a member in the ONL course, and especially in my own PBL group, ONL 15 (which “some people say” was the best group) was a delight. It is always a bit of a leap into the unknown to collaborate with total strangers, but the experience was great, and discussions were very insightful, as well as relaxed, from the get go. And one should never underestimate the importance of networking and connecting with people, who know what will follow.

Overall the experience has been interesting, even if surgery and my public defence sort of came in the way…

Thank you ONL192, and especially PBL 15!

Topic 4: Design for online and blended learning

The theme for week 4 was to shift the focus from participant to supporter/facilitator of an online course. On paper this should have been easy, as the three first topics set the base for understanding online learning from a participant perspective. However easy on paper, I found it to be quite the opposite, partly because this switch in focus also comes with a much broader view on not only learning, but also all the surrounding elements, like course design, creating a supporting and encouraging online environment, the role of a facilitator/instructor/supporter etc.  As this easily might become a bit overwhelming, it is a good thing that there is help at hand. A useful roadmap when creating online or blended (online + analogue teaching) courses is the Community of Inquiry Survey Instrument, which draws upon on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework. This framework sees, according to Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes and Garrison (2013), (higher) education as both a collaborative and an individually constructivist learning experience. The framework consists of three elements: social, cognitive, and teaching presence. In the intersection of these three areas, collaborative constructivist educational experience is recognised (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes and Garrison, 2013). Again, in theory this sounds fine and dandy. But how to actually manage to steer learners into this convergence zone? Enter the Community of Inquiry Survey Instrument.

The Survey instrument, which is meant to function as a feedback formula for participants of online course and of the extent to which students engage in collaborative learning online (Stewart, 2019), gives the instructor practical ques on how to set up teaching, social and cognitive presence. Within teaching presence, focus lie on course design and organisation. One of the main take home messages within this area I feel is communication. Without clear communication, on topics, aims and goals, as well as framework like course dates and times, (online) learning cannot fully actualize. As this lays the foundation for the course, not only from a teaching presence perspective, but also for social and cognitive presence, the importance for this cannot be emphasized enough. Without a clear framework and a well-articulated design as well as instructions, support and facilitation for this in the beginning, the convergence of the three elements becomes impossible. Not only that, but an unclear design can, I feel, add to drop-outs before a course even starts.

Another key element of CoI is the social presence. What I feel is most important for this element is the sense of belonging as well as comfortability. For this, getting to know the peers is crucial. As an example, if we within our PBL group of ONL would not have started by introducing and getting to know each other, we would not have been able to collaborate, or even co-operate. For this to be successful there needs to be good and useful online tools and platforms, which in today’s interconnected world is easily taken care of.

The last key element is cognitive presence, which, in my opinion, is something that should already be there from the get go, even before enrolling in a course, be it online or analogue. Interest and curiousity is something that of course can be encouraged and awoken, whatever the subject, or whatever the interest of participants are, but a motivation to learn can be, and is, crucial for the cognitive presence. In the Community of Inquiry Survey Instrument the focus lies on both how the course organisation and structure support cognitive presence, either via tools used, or tasks created, as well as how individuals perceive their learning.

The challenge then, is to find the sweet spot where all these key elements intersect. This is by no means an easy task, but remembering these key elements, and having them as the cornerstones of course design, can surely be the first step towards a better experience for online learners.

References:

Stewart, M.K., 2019. The Community of Inquiry Survey: An Assessment Instrument for Online Writing Courses. Computers and Composition, 52, pp.37-52.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press

Topic 3: Connectivism and online collaborative learning

A few years ago I participated in a conference in Stockholm. As I registered for the event, the instructions also said to follow the hashtag of the conference. I remember being sucked in to the discussions that went on in the “digital backstage” on Twitter as presentations where given. Much of the content was related to the topic, but from different perspectives, and even with somewhat differing opinions, than the people presenting on stage. The discussions also clarified some of the concepts discussed or presented. In a way, it worked as an “online crowd source tutor” (if that is even a word), and in that way made the learning experience broader. This of course was strengthened by the large amount of participants gathered around a topic that all shared a similar interest in. This was an experience that was very different from all previous conferences, as I felt I got a much broader perspective on the topics. In addition to this, the networking effect was much more present online, in the back drop of the conference.

This type of learning is similar to connectivism, a new theory proposed by Siemens (2005), who argues that in the age of digital information technology, learning is reliant on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge and participation in communities of common interest or social networks (Brindley, Blaschke and Walti, 2009). In Siemens connectivism, collaboration and collaborative learning is crucial, as learning happens when individuals connect with each other and with technology, and collaboratively create knowledge. Having experienced this first hand, I must to some degree concur that the power of connecting with others, in this case strangers with similar interests, through technology can have a positive impact on learning. However, it needs to be pointed out, that connectivism, with all its online connecting and collaborating can get at bit overwhelming, and cause information overload, or difficulties in concentrating. But by careful planning and perhaps facilitating, this can be alleviated.

I have some times wondered if (and secretly hoped that) similar discussions are ongoing somewhere (for instance whatsapp) in more normal classroom settings, at universities. Similar to comparing lecture notes in the 80’s and 90’s, I hope that students nowadays conduct similar peer-learning, as the tools for this are quite more advanced then back in the analogue days. And as Brindley, Blaschke and Walti (2009) point out, education should be about more than just access to content, and providing a rich learning environment with peer-support, peer-learning, interaction and connectedness an important part of education today.

Nowadays I find Twitter somewhat uninspiring. I rarely engage in any discussions or topics, and have in some way fallen out of love with it. Maybe my twitter peak, from a collaborative learning perspective, is already reached. Or maybe I haven’t found the right topic or hashtag to engage with. However, other online collaboration tools have emerged, and similar connectivism has occurred, on platforms like Slack and Teams.

References

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in open and distributed Learning, 10(3).

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Topic 2: Going open

Openness is everywhere today, as exemplified by all the free content on different social media platforms. Openness is also supposed to be something obvious in educational settings. Openness has a long history, as classical teaching in the physical room is open, at least at our university. But in a digital setting, this openness is not as self-evident, and in fact quite multi-layered. We are, and have for quite some time already been, surrounded by MOOCs, Open Access movements, and Open Educational Resources (OERs). But for the individual teacher, all this, not only all abbreviations, can be quite confusing, as not all MOOCs are actually open (especially from a licensing perspective), Open Access still has some limitations, and the creation of OERs can be limited by policies.

From a personal perspective, even the first steps for going open are somewhat confusing. Publishing articles that are open access is of course a “no brainer”, as it is usually set before publishing or as tick in a box procedure. But when it comes to opening up courses, or even parts of a course, the questions marks start to pile up. As I see it, the problem is not that I wouldn’t understand the principles of creating OERs, which is easy once you read the definition of what an OER is:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, adaptation and redistribution by others. https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer

For me, the problem lies in bridging the gap from the praise of openness to the reality of everyday. One of the most important parts of going open is the support for doing this. And not only the support from your university, but also from the funding instances. A lot of focus has been placed on publishing open access, but less on actually creating and measuring the amount of OER material. So as long as the incentive to go open is not that high, I fear this well be reflected in the amount of OERs, even if going open has more potential than remaining closed.

References:
Weller, M. and Anderson, T., 2013. Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning16(1).
Weller, M. (2014). Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press.

Reflections of week 1

Concluding all the discussions and reflections our group engaged in during the first topic on online participation and digital literacies would result in a short novel. Therefore, I have decided to only reflect upon the categorization of individuals in visitors/residents, or even natives/immigrants. In our group we discussed and reflected that labeling is in this case quite difficult, as individuals might not perceive themselves as falling into a category. But the main difficulty is that individuals have a tendency to, as White and Le Cornu (2011) propose, move from and between resident to visitor, on a continuum, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Visitor – Resident continuum (White & Le Cornu, 2011).

This continuum, where individuals slide from one end to the other makes labelling difficult, and maybe even unnecessary. And do we actually need labels, or categories such as these? For whom are they beneficial? This is also interesting from a personal point of view. How would I label myself, as I feel that I fit in both categories, or labels? For instance, I feel that I have an online presence (even if I have started to cut down on these), even if I log off, but I still do much of my thinking off-line, and feel as if online tools as just that, tools for accomplishing a task. So for some parts, I’m leaning towards a resident, while other parts of me feel like a visitor. But do I/we actually need to label myself/ourselves? And what is the point?

References:

White, D.S. and Le Cornu, A., 2011. Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First monday, 16(9).

My thoughts on digital – less is more

I’m a digital visitor, with early experience of the use of digital tools. My first memory of a computer was when I visited a friends fathers workplace at Helsinki University, and we got to see the computer they had there. This was maybe 1985(ish), when I was 6(ish). Later on as computers became more common, I also got my own stationary, in ca 1990-91, as I remember that one of the first games I had was Ski or Die, which came out in 1990. From thereon I have been what some people call early adopters, as I have started using different technological advances at quite an early stage, from mobile phones (Nokia 2110), smartphones (iPhone 1) and tablets (iPad 1) to social media (IRC) and wearables (fitbit). So the journey early on was head on. But since about 4 years ago this changed. I started to contemplate on why I do this, and what is the point. So I decided to go cold turkey.

My phone is now a “dumb”phone without any possibilities to use apps or smart functions, I have limited social media presence, and I try and use modern tech only when it actually is needed. I’m not at all against digital development, quite the contrary. Some tech innovations are wonderful and even save lives, but for me, the line between normal use and too much is too easy to cross, so I have decide to live with less tech, and for me, it has done wonders. I, as also others that limit social media, feel as if I’m more present at home and at work, and feel less stressed (Hunt et al., 2018). And knowing I’m unaware of what everybody does is quite nice (no fomo), even if my social life is a bit limited, cause let’s face it, who calls anymore…

So far the ONL journey has been rather confusing. I find that everything is very unclear, and even feel that there is a bit of information overload. But from chaos might rise order. At least I hope so.

References:

Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751-768.

Who am I?

My name is Jonas. I work as a lecturer at the Department of Healthcare at Arcada UAS in Helsinki, Finland. My background is quite broad, ranging from a degree in emergency care (registered nurse) to a master in history. My work experience is also quite broad. In the recent years I have been concentrating on my dissertation in information science, more specifically health information behaviour, and will hopefully be able to defend it during this autumn.

Blogging is quite new for me, even if I have used social media quite much. So the ONL course will work as a learning platform for this as well. I quess the problem will be finding time and a relevant topic to write about. But I’m looking forward to the ONL learning journey.

Greetings from Helsinki